Ministry in Historical Perspective
James A. Glasscock
Part II. Ministry: Evangelical Reformation
A lecture prepared by use by the Students of the Reformation Seminar
Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Germany
The ministry in the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century is
best known for its biblical preaching. Aptly, Luther's descriptive
metaphor for a Church building certainly applies to the Reformation
understanding of preaching. A Church building was a Mundhaus (mouth
or speech house).
However, preaching did not exhaust the possibilities or demands
placed on the first generation Reformers. In addition to preaching,
the formation and rebuilding of congregations became an urgent matter.
What Church order would be most suitable in a particular locale?
That issue became a paramount concern. It was not forgotten that
preaching of any sort, Roman Catholic or Protestant, required the
gathering of a congregation or a Church and one that had a sense
of ordered life.
Indeed, though preaching required a Church or congregation, other
distinctive marks of the Churches of the Reformation stretched and
broadened the concept of ministry throughout the 16th century Europe
in the Reformation lands.
Not infrequently, Churches took on distinctive features in Church
order, worship and, of course, preaching. Even music, especially
hymns, chant, psalm singing and the like, was not to be neglected
or forgotten in the constitution of the Church, a Church that was
biblical and evangelical.
Music played an especially important role in the Reformation and
certainly in Wittenberg where Luther was a leading advocate of music.
But though music was essential in sustaining and educating a congregation
in Bible and theology, other solemn and sobering duties and practical
matters clamored for the attention of dedicated pastors and ministers.
Living in the 16th century was not for the faint-hearted and it
was a perilous experience indeed. The 16th century was an unsettled
age: a time of periodic outbreaks of the Black Plague, a rapidly
shifting social environment, a restless domestic political situation
and compounded by an external threat posed by the Turks!
In spite of these formidable obstacles, the Reformers of the 16th
century and Reformation-minded Christians tasted "Christian
freedom," and liked it. Though the experiment in Christian
freedom sometimes went terribly awry, as in the case of Muenzer,
Carlstadt and the Anabaptists, the Reformers could not escape their
obligations to civil and political authority and abandon themselves
or their Churches to license or unrestricted freedom.
Given their primary commitment to the Gospel, with all its implications,
inevitably, the Reformers unavoidably interacted with the princely
authorities and magistrates. Yet the potential for conflict was
high, as the history of the 16th century often attests.
Yet in spite of major and sometimes minor difficulties and challenges
confronting them, the Reformers persisted in the development of
often-unique and varied orders and styles of worship, music and
Wisely, the Reformers, fully aware of the great tradition to be
found in the writings of the Apostolic Church and the writings of
the Greek and Latin Church Fathers. Even theologically substantial
developments within the Roman Catholic Tradition were understood
and on occasion appropriated by them for use in their Churches.
Indeed, the willingness to learn and honor the worthy past of the
Christian Tradition is a crowning achievement, and an example to
As their successors, our task and duty in the Church of the 21st
century is to remember the past! However trite it may sound, it
seems useful to write that remembering the past must occur before
we can recover any of it. And one cannot recover what one does not
first remember is available.
Before turning to the subjects of worship and music during the early
years of the 16th century Reformation, a matter of ecclesiastical
moment is framed in a question, namely, What is the nature of the
Church? The answers proposed determine the nature of the Church's
I. The Nature of the Church.
Ministerial practice of the mainline Reformers (Luther and Melanchthon
of Wittenberg, Calvin of Geneva, Bucer of Strasbourg, Zwingli of
Zurich and many others) -- and Protestantism in general -- varied
in form and order, but regardless Protestant ministers and preachers
needed a Church, a congregation of the faithful Christians, in which
they served as preacher and acquired a wide variety of responsibilities.
But the wide variety of responsibilities that were uniquely theirs
varied with the Church as institution and organization.
What Protestants understood the Church to be and what Roman Catholics
meant by Church reveals a deep chasm that separated the Protestants
and Roman Catholics.
In the 16th century Protestant Reformation, one did not distinguish
between members and ministers or clergy. But in the Middle Ages
and until Vatican II (1962-63), the RCC view of the Church meant
laity were to be passive observers of a drama playing itself out
in the chancel and around the Altar.
The major figures in performance of the drama of the Mass were the
ordained clergy; the congregation, as we saw in the lecture on the
Middle Ages, was an audience and not necessarily expected to be
involved in the service.
On the other hand, attentiveness to the doctrine of the priesthood
of all believers means that every Protestant, member or clergy,
is a minister. This simple sentence is of primary importance in
understanding the difference between the Protestants and Roman Catholics.
By and large, it is not a misrepresentation to argue that the ministry
of the RCC is driven by an elaborate sacramental system. The sacramental
system -- from cradle to grave for the laity -- arose over centuries
and itself has a unique history, as Jaroslav Pelikan's excellent
study demonstrates so clearly.
Whatever distinction that exists between clergy and laity in most
Protestant Churches is based on the function or office, not on one's
standing in an ecclesiastical or social order or holding higher
rank, though some prominent Reformers received privileges not ordinarily
expected or granted to lesser-known clergy in a princely state.
In striking contrast to the Protestant position, the Roman Catholic
Church doctrine of the Church greatly influenced how its hierarchical
structure imposed an order on the nature of her ministry and, to
a great extent, determined the boundaries, limitations, and outcomes
The conception of the Church in Roman Catholic teaching arose in
part by necessity of the times, as the Church of Rome stepped into
fill the breach that developed with the passing of the Roman Empire
and the Fall of Rome (410).
In a time of transition, the Church of Rome gained power and prestige.
Quite naturally, it became easy to think of the Bishop of the Christian
Church of Rome as successor to the Caesar. New titles claimed by
the Bishop of Rome include Pontifex Maximus (the Latin for "Supreme
Pontiff"). Originally, the title Pontifex Maximus was a pagan
title conferred on the chief priest of Rome. As Rome fell, it fell
to the Christian bishop of Rome to become the chief priest of Rome.
In the 2nd-3rd century African Church Father Tertullian of Carthage
(c.160-c. 220) used the term satirically in one of his writings,
but by the 5th century onwards, it was a regular title of honor
of the Popes, and occasionally used also by other bishops. In later
times, the title was confined to the Roman Pontiff.
In keeping with the rank and title of the Bishop of Rome and the
Pope, increasing emphasis soon was laid on the Divine Constitution
and corporate nature of the Church. The essence of the Church, as
understood in RCC teaching, is epitomized in four traditional notes
of the Church, namely, unity, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity.
The four traditional notes of the Church -- unity, holiness, catholicity
and apostolicity -- naturally lead to the following logical and
reasonable conclusion. If the Church was the Body of Christ, Her
Lord founded her. If Her Lord founded her, then, She was and is
of divine origin. If She had a divine origin, then, She must be
holy. If She were holy, then, by divine intention, She was universal
or catholic. Consequently, She possessed the Apostolic teaching
and power of laying on of hands and was custodian of the teaching
of Her Lord and the Tradition.
The Church was conceived as a visible body. Her membership, as accepted
rather passively by the members, Her orders of ministers, and Her
unity are all connected and concerned by participation in the visible
sacraments. At first, these were baptism and the Lord's Supper or
Eucharist, but in time the number of sacraments increased to seven
In contrast to the visible Church, there is an invisible Church.
While the visible Church is "the Church militant here on earth,"
there is an invisible Church of the faithful departed, who are divided
into the Church Expectant (undergoing purification in purgatory)
and the Church Triumphant (already enjoying the beatific vision
But Protestants of any stripe need a congregation, too. While not
in agreement at some points with the RCC interpretation or understanding
of the Church, the marks of the Church among most Protestant reformers
and bodies include major emphasis on preaching, Scripture, Word
(Jesus Christ) and two Sacraments (Baptism and the Lord's Supper).
These are or may be considered distinguishing marks of the Church.
A high doctrine of the Church is found in the second generation
of Reformers, but this doctrine contains ideas that most of the
Continental Reformers in Germany, Switzerland and elsewhere would
have agreed upon. A high concept of the Church and its ministry
is still held officially in the Anglican Church or the Church of
England, though in some practices one thinks otherwise.
The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of the Church of England remains
a remarkable doctrinal statement when one is asked to define the
Of the Church
The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men,
in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments [of
baptism and the Lord's Supper] be duly ministered according to Christ's
ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to
But there quickly arose a dissenting group during the early days
of the Reformation in Europe, whose idea of the Church is not generally
considered as holding a high doctrine of the Church.
The Anabaptists appeared in Zurich. In the city where Zwingli contributed
significantly to the Reformed Church (in distinction from the Lutheran
Churches in Germany), Conrad Grebel (c. 1498-1526) and Felix Manz,
young scions of prominent families, led a radical movement that
went far beyond Zwingli's program of reform.
In his youthful days, Grebel was in Basel, Vienna and Paris, and
drank deeply of the humanism that was popular. When Grebel returned
to Zurich and acquainted with the humanism that was spreading rapidly,
naturally came in contact with Zwingli, a humanist and a Reformer
Grebel's conversion came in 1522-1523, but of the details little
or nothing is known.
At the outset, Grebel was a warm friend and earnest follower of
Zwingli, but almost immediately and by the autumn of 1523, he began
to part with Zwingli. The latter would move no faster in abolishing
the Mass or the use of images than the Zurich City Council would
permit, while Grebel believed the civil authorities should not control
the Church or determine her faith and practice. Others believed
as Grebel and joined together to become known as the Swiss Brethren.
In retrospect, the Anabaptist movement represents one of three approaches
to a doctrine of the ministry and a doctrine of the Church. Therefore,
it is important to examine in some detail the emergence of the Anabaptist
doctrine of ministry and the Church.
Grebel and Manz desired an accelerated cleansing of the Church and
a more thoroughgoing Reformation than Zwingli was prepared to undertake.
They contacted Carlstadt, who advocated rapid change in Wittenberg,
and Thomas Muenzer. Grebel wrote Luther encouraging him to apply
the Scriptures with less compromise than the Great Luther was doing.
By the autumn of 1524, Grebel and his associates rejected infant
baptism, and opposed the civil authorities' collection of tithes
for the support of ministers. They called the practice "usury."
But it was over baptism that brought the Zurich authorities into
conflict with them, for in spite of the City Council's wishes, Grebel
and company gave baptism only to those who were adult believers.
The Swiss Brethren also observed the Lord's Supper with simple rites.
Paulk summarizes the position of some of the early and leading Anabaptists
They advocated . . . the idea that a Church truly reformed according to the Bible could not be anything else
but a community of believers, who, having been awakened and reborn
by the Holy Spirit, were resolved to follow Christ and to practice
a life of uncompromising religion, declining to rely on political
power for the maintenance of religion and refusing to bear arms,
to use physical coercion of any sort, to appeal to the courts, to
swear oaths, et cetera. The issue between them and Zwingli became
joined, when they neglected to present their children for baptism,
convinced only that believer's baptism was the true sign of entrance
into the membership of the Church.
With this description of the Church and its ministry in hand, the
Anabaptists joined the other Reformers in preaching doctrine to
the extent that "only among the Anabaptist did Christian awakenings
and revivals occur under the influence of Biblical preaching, Bible
readings, and hymn singing."
But one asks, "Didn't the Reformers who were not Anabaptists
preach doctrine, read scripture and create singing congregations?
Why did they not have awakenings and revivals like the Anabaptists
The distinctive trademark of the mainstream Protestant Reformers
was centered on doctrine preaching, too, but also a heavy emphasis
on the teaching minister.
As Paulk notes,
In Wittenberg, it became the practice (which was
instituted elsewhere) to hold, four times a year, preaching services
on the Catechism. For two weeks, the Catechism was explained seriatim
in daily sermons. Practices of this sort made it inevitable for
preaching to assume a catechetical character. The ministers directed
their sermons to the end of stimulating a right faith on the basis
of a correct knowledge of evangelical doctrines. [Unlike the Anabaptists],
they did not try to arouse conversion experiences in their listeners
nor did they cultivate emotions or sentiments [in their hearers].
. . . . .
The movement of the Reformation at large was not a ''great awakening.''
It was the goal of the Reformers and of the early Protestant ministry
to inculcate right Christian teaching and "pure doctrine"
in the minds of men. This is why as preachers they were primarily
Definition of the teaching ministry and the role of preaching in
most Protestant bodies may be more clearly seen if one examines
doctrinal statements of the Reformers.
For example, in the Lutheran Church, Philip Melanchthon, author
of the Augsburg Confession (1530) in Article VII (The Church), writes:
It is also taught among us that the only holy Christian Church
will be and remain forever. This is the assembly of all believers
among whom the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments
are administered according to the Gospel. For it is sufficient for
the true unity of the Christian Church that the Gospel be preached
in conformity with the pure understanding of it [the Gospel] and
that the sacraments be administered for the true unity of the Christian
Church that ceremonies, instituted by men, should be observed uniformly
in all places. It is as Paul says in Ephesians 4:4, 5: "There
is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope
that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism."
Surveying the 16th century Reformation as a Lutheran, Edgar M.
Carlson, investigates "The Doctrine of Ministry in the Confessions"
of the Lutheran Church, and reaches a surprising conclusion.
He observes that "there is surprisingly little about the office
of ministry in the Confessions, and where they [the writers of the
Confessions] do treat of it, the discussion of the subject is almost
always incidental to the main theme."
A case in point is Article V of the Augsburg Confession, which reads
V. [The Office of Ministry]
To obtain such faith God instituted the office of ministry, that
is, provided the Gospel and sacraments. Through these, as through
means, he gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where
he pleased, in those who hear the Gospel. And the Gospel teaches
that we have a gracious God, not by our own merits but by the merit
of Christ, when we believe this.
Condemned are the Anabaptists and others who teach that the Holy
Spirit comes to us through our own preparations, thoughts, and works
without the external word of the Gospel.
Carlson continues by pointing to the major issue Melanchthon identifies
in the Confessions of the Lutheran Church. Carlson claims the controversy
to which the Confessions speak is, on the one hand, about "the
Word versus the ministry," that is the RCC hierarchy. In the
Confessions, he suggests, that, in the Church, the hierarchical
ministry of the RCC occupied and dominated "the central place
in the life of the Church which properly belonged to the Word, or
On the other hand, the Reformation understanding of the Word meant
the Word presided over the ministry. "In Rome the Word was
an instrument through which the ministry functioned; in Luther the
ministry was instrumental to the Word. [The Reformers] were servants
of the Word."
The Reformers' understanding of the role of the Word in the Church
asserts that the Word is of living, vital and dynamic character.
Thus, when the Reformers speak of abuses in the Confessions, they
speak negatively of the abuses and false practices of the RCC hierarchical
clergy, and they speak in specific terms to identify the abuses
and false practices. Such acts as "monastic vows," "[denying]
the marriage of priests," abuse of "ecclesiastical power"
in the seduction of nuns and married women in the confessional,
"the power and primacy of the Pope," and the list can
be extended if one wishes, but there is no need in this lecture.
At the time of the Reformation, one recalls from the presentation
on the Ministry in the Middle Ages and your reading in sources there
was a distinctive vocation that elevated the priestly caste of the
RCC above the laity and their ordinary and worldly vocations.
The issue of vocations, all vocations, drew Luther's attention in
the Babylonian Captivity of the Church. Karlfried Froehlich quotes
a relevant passage from the Babylonian Captivity of the Church:
. . . I advise no one to enter any religious order or the
priesthood, indeed, I advise everyone against it -- unless he is
forearmed with this knowledge and understands that the works of
monks and priests, however holy and arduous they may be, do not
different one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic
laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks,
but that all works are measured before God by faith alone.
In a treatise On Monastic Vows of October 1521, Luther wrote from
Wartburg Castle. Word had reached Luther that some of his Wittenberg
colleagues were getting married and confreres were leaving the monastery.
With pastoral intent of strengthening and instructing the consciences
of people, Luther speaks not against the monastic choice, but he
views the issue from the standpoint of vows. Luther states the problem
in this manner.
No one can deny that the command to offer vows was instituted by
divine authority. Scriptures says, 'Make your vows and keep them'
[Psalm 76:11], so there is no disputing whether a vow may be offered.
What we are trying to show is how to distinguish one vow from another
and recognize which vows are godly, good, and pleasing to God. Only
these must be considered as vows. They are named and demanded by
Scripture. Further, we are trying to show how we may distinguish
which vows are ungodly, evil, and displeasing to God, vows which
would not otherwise be regarded as vows.
Luther interprets the vows that are godly, good and pleasing to
Vows that follow the will of God, based on Scripture. The vows related
to the godly, good and pleasing to God deal with "the universality
of God's promise of salvation, salvation by faith alone, Christian
freedom, reason (monastic vows demanded what no young person could
reasonably promise), and finally the Ten Commandments, especially
the Fourth: 'Honor your father and mother.'"
Interestingly and in passing, Luther dedicated this treatise to
his father, Hans Luther, who strongly opposed young Luther's decision
to become a monk. Martin asked for forgiveness for his willful violation
of the Fourth Commandment.
In a Christmas sermon, Luther spoke to the congregation when reflected
on the vocation of the shepherds in the Nativity story. Luther declared:
Christian liberty is not tied to any specific work.
On the contrary, all works are the same to a Christian, no matter
what they are. These shepherds do not run away into the desert,
they do not don monk's garb, they do not shave their heads, neither
do they change their clothing, schedule, food, drink, nor any external
work. They return to their place in the fields to serve God there.
Luther expanded his argument to include the vocation of every Christian,
influenced on his exegesis of the doctrine of the priesthood of
all believers. In Scripture, Luther could not discover the two-tiered
Christianity of monastics and non-monastics that the RCC taught.
It was a distinction not supported by Scripture, so in a Reformation
tract of 1520, Luther wrote an Appeal to the Ruling Class of German
Nationality to press his argument.
Grounding the argument in Paul's First Letter to the Corinthian
Church, Luther writes:
It is pure invention that pope, bishop, priests, and monks are
called the spiritual estate while princes, lords, artisans and farmers
are called the temporal estate. This is indeed a piece of deceit
and hypocrisy. Yet no one need be intimidated by I, for this reason:
all Christians are truly of the spiritual estate, and there is no
difference among them except that of office. Paul says in I Corinthians
12 [:12-13] that we are all one body, yet every member has it own
work by which it serves the others. This is because we are all Christians
alike; for baptism, gospel, and faith alone make us spiritual and
a Christian people.
But role does a pastor and minister have in Luther's conception
of the Church and Her ministry? There is a call that involves two
parts: an external call from the Church and an internal call from
Because Luther and Calvin, too, understand the ministry as the ministry
of Word and Sacrament, then, it is reasonable to assume the pastoral
ministry is God's external means of grace.
In this respect, perhaps reacting to the Anabaptist phenomenon,
Luther would doubt my own call to the Gospel ministry, for the great
Reformer distrusted any person who claimed to have a personal call
by God to the vocation of ministry.
What Luther advocates, however, is starting with a trouble conscience.
Does one have the "right" to inflict one's own foibles
and warped nature on an unsuspecting congregation? Luther suggests
that one seek counsel and ask for the discernment of your brothers
and sisters in the greater and smaller Church.
Froehlich observes that seeking the ministry of discernment among
the brothers and sisters is found in article 5 of the Augsburg Catechism.
Later in the same document and in article 14, "Order in the
Church," that "It is taught among us that nobody should
publicly teach or preach or administer the sacraments of the church
without a regular call."
This call is not believed to be directly from God as many of the
several Confessions of the Churches stated. But what the Confessions
have in mind is a call by God and involves human authority. The
catchword is "regularly" and means that established procedures
of communal discernment and prearranged agreement as to process
is applied and scrupulously followed.
Because in the Reformation understanding, the vocation of the Christian
and the minister or pastor are alike and the vocation of all applies
to every confessing Christian. Luther says,
We have a double vocation, a spiritual and an external. The spiritual
vocation is that we have all been called through the Gospel to baptism
and the Christian faith . . . this calling is common and similar
for all . . . The other contains a differentiation: It earthly,
though also divine.
It is important to pause and assess the role learning plays in
the work of the pastor or minister. If in Luther's understanding
that the vocation involves God's call in every laudable work or
profession, then, for the pastor or minister there should be an
academic component included. The academic component supports Luther's
concern for "God-speech," theological study and the science
of God. These cannot be neglected without doing irreparable harm
to the Church.
One is reminded, also, that it was during the Middle Ages or in
the 12th and 13th centuries that the great universities of Europe
were organized. Certainly the establishment of a university in Wittenberg
by Frederick the Wise was a wise move, affirming the importance
of learning and especially theological learning.
The foundational document of Christian faith, the Bible, was never
diminished with establishment of new schools and universities of
the 12th and 13th centuries, but though the curriculum expanded
to include "secular" subjects, the Bible remained the
lodestone of Protestant academic development, theology and learning.
Quite fortuitously and in service of advancing the Reformers' agenda,
many of the Reformers expanded their range of learning to include
humanist studies, too. Indeed, they were scholars of the first order
In summation of this section, one can write the Reformation of the
16th century reoriented the nature of the Church's ministry by tying
the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers to the call to be
a minister and pastor.
Furthermore, the Reformation of the 16th century raised the status
of the pastor by permitting him to become a husband and father,
as most of the Reformers married and had children.
A generation later after Luther, John Calvin could define the Church
in this masterful definition and remain true to the evangelical
tradition of the Reformation when he writes:
Where the Word is heard with reverence
and the sacraments are not neglected
there we discover . . an appearance
of the Church.
In order to ensure the Word is heard (preached and taught) and the
sacraments are not neglected, Calvin states what scriptural offices,
identified in Paul, describe the nature of the Reformed ministry
of the 16th century in Geneva and elsewhere.
Those who preside over the government of the church in accordance
with Christ's institution are called by Paul as follows: first apostles,
then prophets, thirdly evangelists, fourthly pastors, and finally
teachers [Ephesians 4:11]. Of these only the last two [pastors and
teachers] have an ordinary office in the church; the Lord raised
up the first three at the beginning of his Kingdom, and now and
again revives them as the need of the times demands.
In the same section of the Institutes, Calvin elucidates his high
conception of the ministry when he writes,
Pastors and teachers, whom the church can never go without [are
essential]. There is, I believe, this difference between them: teachers
are not put in charge of discipline, or administering the sacraments,
or warnings or exhortations, but only of Scriptural interpretation
-- to keep doctrine whole and pure among believers.
But the pastoral office includes all these functions within itself.
Without belaboring the points of this section, the major Reformers
in Germany and Switzerland, the pastoral office is one of training
and function in service of the Church and Her ministry to the congregation.
II. Church Orders in the Princely German Territories
Because the Reformation in Germany surfaced so unpredictably and
without any prior preparation on how to organize the new Churches,
there was no established pattern of organization.
Paulk describes the situation in Germany during the 1520's this
[Church visitations] in 1526 in the electorates of Saxony and
Hesse [were first instituted]. Under the authority of the prince,
commissions of theologians and of public officials trained in law
inspected the conditions of the churches in various parts of the
territories in order to lay the ground for their reorganization.
They found widespread confusion. The old order had collapsed. They
and the common people showed little interest in the church and had
ceased to support it. They no longer paid tithes and fees and made
no gifts of goods or money. After the tragic suppression of the
Peasants' Revolt of 1525, the peasants were largely alienated from
the Reformation and they resented and passively resisted the actions
of the Reformers and the lords as well. The worst feature of the
situation was there was little adequate lay leadership. Monasteries
had been forsaken, and whole parishes were without ecclesiastical
leadership. Many priests who had turned to the Reformation and had
become evangelical preachers were incapable either of preaching
or of rebuilding congregations. There was no common ways about which
the Reformation was to be realized. Confession prevailed in the
celebration of the worship services and sacraments. The changes
there were made were often arbitrary and inspired by whims of individuals.
Ecclesiastical discipline and Christian morality were no longer
maintained. The jurisdictional and administrative power which the
Roman Catholic bishops had exercised, either directly or though
episcopal officials, had disappeared -- with dire results, particularly
upon the institutions and the practices of marriage.
In Germany, the ministry in the context of evangelical church orders
in Germany, early on found former priests and monks, who had become
evangelical preachers, took the initiative in developing ministry,
they were met with a host of difficulties. The Roman Catholic Church
had so long been established in the common life of a village, town
or city that even with the support of princes and magistrates, the
new preachers could not proceed with establishing a new order. The
reason the new preachers could not proceed is the innumerable ties
that linked the Roman Church to the political and social order,
to economics and law, to mores and customs. New church orders could
not come into being except by a transition in the course of which
much that was old and traditional had to be preserved.
Moreover, Luther, who had been outlawed by the Papacy and in the
approval of Charles V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and everything
he represented was officially condemned together with his person.
Only n 1526, did the evangelical minority among the princes and
estates of the German Empire risk cautious introduction of the Reformation
into their territories.
Facing almost insurmountable disadvantages and facing formidable
obstacles that bared the way to a successful change, a change that
had simply not been envisioned or planned, it is apparent, in retrospect,
that the Reformers, and especially Luther, did not have a plan for
organizing and building evangelical church congregations. There
was no strategic plan of action. This is of little surprise, as
in the beginning, Luther
himself thought that, if the worst abuses of the Roman Church could
be undone and room was given in the world to the preaching of the
Word of God, true Christians would arise who would gradually form
new congregation and proceed to build a new church order.
Paulk contends that throughout his life Luther thought that preaching
the Word faithfully would achieve a reformation in the Churches
but it soon became apparent that any reformation had to pass through
the courts and chambers of the princes and magistrates of the state.
By 1520, however, Luther appealed to the German and Christian nobility
to act as "emergency-bishops" of the Church because, in
his estimation, the regular or RCC bishops had failed to care properly
for the Church.
As time passed and the princes and estates rose to the occasion,
new evangelical orders developed. One must distinguish between (A)
territorial Churches and (B) those of towns.
A. The Church orders of the princely territories of Germany were
of three types.
1. In Saxony, the ministers were held responsible for preaching,
catechetical teaching, and the administration of sacraments. They
were relieved of all responsibility for external organization and
the Church administration.
Superintendents, the successors of the deans and archdeacons of
the Roman Church and appointed by the ruler, supervised these evangelical
ministers. Often the Superintendents were ministers in a district
town. Their responsibility was to examine the ministers before the
minister was called to a congregation, to ordain them, and to supervise
their ministry and advise them in the conduct of their ministry.
Furthermore, the Superintendents convened the ministers of their
districts in synods, which permitted oversight of the congregations
and to deal with issues and problems in the Churches and ministry.
Everything else was in the hands of the Consistories, which consisted
of two theologically trained and two juristically trained counselors
as well as minor officials. Some of the minor officials, quite appropriately,
were skilled in financial administration. The Consistories were
responsible to the prince and regulated all of the external and
internal affairs of the Church, except they lacked the power of
ordination and had to respect the office of preaching as it related
to the Word of God.
However, the Consistories controlled the training of the ministry,
the observance of the creeds and the orders of divine worship. They
also administered the finances and properties of the Churches and
exercised all jurisdictional authority, especially with respect
to marriage laws and customs.
In this type of system, the congregations had no status for active
responsibility in the Church. The laity were on the receiving end
of the ecclesiastical chain of command. Some orders of this general
type, however, when it came to the appointment of ministers gave
representatives of a particular congregation veto power but, by
and large, congregations were the objects of ministerial and pastoral
labors and consistorial administration. As for the ministers in
this type of order, they, too, were guided by extensive regulations
and in some ways the solo voice for a congregation before the higher
2. In Hesse (first introduced in 1531) and revised in 1537, 1539
and 1566, according to Paulk, the highest ecclesiastical authority
lay in the hands of the prince. But it was less bureaucratic and
more representative in character than the first type, the type in
In the order of Hesse, a local congregation was given voice through
the elders who were selected from their midst. Unfortunately though,
this office declined after 1539 when it was first instituted. In
its place was established an order that made Superintendents the
governing body of the Church. The office of Superintendent exercised
full episcopal authority in districts, supervising ministers and
congregations, administering Church property and dispensing discipline
on members and exercising jurisdiction, presumably over the members
of a congregation.
The Landgrave appointed the first Superintendents, who increased
in numbers from four initially to six a bit later, and their successors
were named in the following manner.
The ministers of a district proposed three of their number as candidates
for the office of the Superintendents who then elected one of them,
proposing his name to the prince who had the right either to confirm
or to veto the election.
The ministers of each district were convened annually by their Superintendent.
Every other year there was a meeting of a General Synod attended
by the Superintendents, one minister from each district elected
by his synod, and the official representatives of the prince.
3. The third type of Church order was in Wuerttemberg. It was
completed in 1533, and it too was of bureaucratic nature. A commission
of councilors acting on ducal authority governed the Church. The
councilors engaged a number of Visitators or Visitors, theologians
and lawyers, under a director, the Church councilor. His duty as
Church councilor was to inspect the Church regularly with regard
to external affairs.
In their purely spiritual work, Superintendents who presided in
the district towns led the ministers. The highest spiritual officials
were four General Superintendents who were set over the other Superintendents
and were appointed by the prince.
If one examines closely these three Church orders, it appears the
object of them was to establish standards of the Reformers! The
prince of the realm as praecipuum membrum ecclesiae (chief member
of the Church) assumed the authority, which formerly had belonged
to the bishops of the RCC. Only preaching and the administration
of the sacraments were exempt from his power. But he himself was
subject to the Word of God, the highest authority.
On the other hand, the bureaucracy through whom the prince exercised
landesherrliche Kirchenregiment turned out to be a patriarchal government.
Commendably, the prince generally took a personal interest in the
affairs of the Churches in his domain. The personal interest of
the sovereign of the realm is demonstrated in the records and documents
of the 16th century Reformation archives of administration. The
records and documents are strewn with innumerable details, which
were submitted to the prince for his personal decision.
Exercising the prerogatives of a bishop in the discarded RCC system
of Church governance, the prince was responsible for the punishment
of wayward ministers, the settlement of quarrels in synods, the
discipline of Church members who objected to their ministers or
refused to observe Church rules and so forth.
In his own way, the prince of the realm acted as a patriarch of
his people who through his personal government in Church and society
led them in Christian ways of behaving. For his success in this
endeavor, the prince relied not only upon administrative officials
but also on ministers and the heads of prominent families. Each
of these, in his own sphere of authority and influence, was a patriarch
in his realm as was the prince over the whole realm. There is nuance
that is important to note in all of this: The local ministers occupied
a position in between the rulers and the families.
B. Our eyes now turn to consider Church order in free towns, primarily
because these communities had a social character of their own and
they were governed by a oligarical-republican government. Not unimportant
also is the fact the free towns were engaged in commerce.
Given these social and commercial conditions, public affairs were
managed and administered through person-to-person relationships
and certainly not patriarchal in nature as in the case of the princes
in Saxony, Hesse and Wuettemberg, as was shown earlier.
The town councils and their administrative officers assumed control
of the evangelical Church, and it was their decision that the Roman
Catholic order was overthrown and the Reformation introduced. Consequently,
the structure of the Church government was less bureaucratic than
in most German Churches or in RCC congregations.
Not surprisingly, however, the political magistrates jealously guarded
their turf: They were intent on not having their control of the
common life of "their" town restricted or curtailed by
the preachers. Moreover, they insisted that clergy as leaders of
the Churches should be subjected to their guidance - laymen instructing
learned clergy no less!
In spite of this restriction, compared to clergy in monarchical
lands, the clergy in free town congregations were able to exercise
their own initiative. Of no small importance to the exercise of
initiative by Reformation clergy was the introduction of the Reformation
as a Christian commonwealth (respublica Christiana or civitas Christiana).
Of course, even Church leaders in princely territories found less
restrictions on their work than others. Not unmindful of the limitations
of their initiatives and prerogatives, nevertheless, certain ministers
exercised great power and had considerable influence with princes
and town leaders in free towns.
The list of influential Reformers reads like a Reformation Hall
of Fame. In the princely estates one discovers a special list:
Luther and Melanchthon in Saxony.
Bugenhagen in Pomerania and Denmark.
Krafft in Hesse.
Brenz in Wuerttemberg.
In the free towns, the preachers pressed their demands for regulation
of Church life much more forcefully upon their magistrates as in
the cases of Bucer and his colleagues Hedio, Zell and Capito in
Strasbourg; Rhegius in Augsburg; the brothers Blaurer in Konstanz;
Zwingli in Zurich; Oecolampadius in Basle; and of course Calvin
Regardless of their influence and power, this impressive list of
Reformers did not dominate the town or intimidate the town council.
Both ministers and councils agreed the great issue was the institution
of Christian discipline, lest the social fabric fray and injury
come to the town and ultimately the state.
In matters of Christian discipline, that is, the subjection of all
phases of life, personal, private, social and public, to the moral-religious
demands of the Gospel, the established authorities were in agreement.
However, in the territorial Church, represented by Church order
in the A category, the concern was not acute, because the prince
was the trendsetter and all trusted him to exercise Christian responsibility
in his rule.
In this connection, Luther doubted whether public life and government
could be "Christianized." On the other hand, in the town,
introduction of Christian discipline, at least commonly understood
by the ministers, amounted to regulation of the common life by laws
designed to render the Church omnipotent. To modern ears, the intense
regulation sounds oppressive but even before the advent of the Reformation,
citizens in medieval towns lived under strict and amazingly detailed
regulations issued and executed by their governments.
Nevertheless, the citizens of towns, living in a new time, were
not entirely friendly toward the plans of the preachers. Even the
town councils, though rightly desirous of creating a favorable climate
of discipline in and among the population, were loathe to exercise
or institute Church discipline on the wayward, because they feared
that sooner or later the preachers might usurp the town council's
authority and constitute themselves as a second legislative and
It is reported that the council and presumably the people were not
willing to submit to a new Papal authority, the Protestant clergy,
and certainly they were not willing to submit to a Puritan regime
of the preachers!
Furthermore, in Strasbourg or Strasbourg, it was said: "One
must let the world be the world, at least a little! [Man muss dennoch
die Welt ein Wenig die Welt sin lassen].
But Bucer is a model of the persistence and advocacy. Bucer was
spokesman for the evangelical cause in Strasbourg and introduced
a set of new practices that had succeeded elsewhere.
As the town council yielded to evangelical preaching, they permitted
several congregations to elect their own pastors and preachers,
reorganized Church property, assigning its income to the maintenance
of Church buildings, the payment of ministers' salaries, education,
and poor relief.
Furthermore, in 1529, the town council issued a detailed mandate
of morals, and then established a marriage court. Unlike Zurich
where minister were "judges," in Strasbourg, they had
no judicial function. A system of Church wardens, appointed by the
town council, made an attempt to govern and supervise Churches and
especially the ministers "in their life, teaching and preaching,"
and to attend the synods, which met twice a year "in order
that they might further the gradual building up of a real Christian
Sometime in the late 1530's, the idea of a Churchwarden was abandoned
because the office could not serve in an ecclesiastical and political
capacity. But in the ensuing vacuum, Bucer offered a proposal.
Bucer had a high sense of the Church as a moral community. In memorandum
after memorandum, he lobbied the town council to permit the Church
to exercise Church discipline.
In 1539, he argued the Church, according to the law of the New Testament,
such be constituted with these following offices: preachers, elders
(responsible for discipline and for the religious and moral supervision
of the Church members), teachers and deacons (responsible for poor-relief).
For whatever reason, the town council did not adopt Bucer's proposal.
In 1546 or 1547, however, he proposed the formation of fellowships
(Gemeinschaften) of earnest Christians in each parish. Such fellowships,
voluntary and formed by members, had the responsibility to an appeal
from the minister, but no one was permitted to join without a clear
profession of faith. Youth became members only after a period of
thorough instruction in the Christian religion and on the basis
of a solemn profession of faith before joining the whole fellowship.
In this connection, one notes, as Paulk does, that the first pattern
of the Protestant practice of Confirmation class, later introduced
into Lutheranism under the influence of the Spencer the Pietist
had its origin.
The fellowship was to elect elders who with the minister exercised
discipline according to Matthew 18:16ff.
The minister and the elders should have the right to supervise
the life of the members of the fellowship, to admonish, and, if
necessary, to excommunicate them by excluding them from prayer and
the Lord's Table and, in certain cases, from the preaching service.
The fellowship was to manifest itself chiefly in the common celebration
of the Lord's Supper, for which all members would be expected to
make themselves ready by attending a special preparatory service
of penance, confession and absolution.
This plan received minority support among the ministers. The majority
of the ministers, so Paulk writes, feared the building of a Church
within the Church (ecclesiola in ecclesia) that might disrupt the
established Church and, most importantly, disturb the unity of the
commonwealth. In short order, the magistrate rejected these proposals.
Bucer had labored long and hard to bring this plan to fruition.
At one time, Luther proposed a similar scheme but rejected the idea
at the beginning of the Reformation in Germany. Bucer's ideal of
the Church of pure people was a desperate effort to obtain for a
minority in the Church what he and they hoped would be the ideal
for society at large.
Bucer masterfully presents the ideal of this Church order in his
tract On the True Care of Souls. Bucer writes movingly:
The secular sword and power must be under the spiritual sword
and power. And this spiritual sword is the Word of God . . . When
the pastors rightly handle this spiritual sword, namely the Word
of God, . . . all men must with complete obedience be subject to
them, i.e. to the Word of God and of Christ which they teach and
according to which they pass judgments. They must now let themselves
be judged and governed not by men who happen to be ministers, but
by Christ, the heavenly King, who by 'his Word [rules] in and through
These words anticipate the conception of the Christian commonwealth
that not only guided Bucer in his career and inspired the leaders
of other Reformed city-states. This ideal of the Christian commonwealth
hovered over the Church orders of all towns in which the Reformation
in the Reformed Tradition played out its role. But it was John Calvin
in Geneva who finally instituted the necessary reforms to make it
work (after a fashion).
Calvin, who finally carried the day in the formation of the Reformed
Church, compromised with the officials of the civic government in
Geneva in order to create the foundation for a Christian commonwealth.
The most enduring feature of Calvin's proposal, the Ordonnances
Ecclesiastiques (Ecclesiastical Ordinances) is found in the draft
of September and October 1541.
There are four orders of office instituted by our Lord for the government
of the Church.
First, pastors; then doctors; next elders; and fourth, deacons.
Hence if we have a Church well ordered and maintained we ought to
observe this form of government.
This form of government is the most prominent feature of Reformed
and Presbyterian Church order. There were lesser offices to be found
in the New Testament, offices, such as, apostles, prophets and the
like (Romans 12; I Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4), but these were
not accorded the same standing as the essential offices Calvin delineated
in his writings.
In Geneva, the body of preachers constituted the Compagnie Venerable
(Venerable Company). The Venerable Company examined new ministers
and recommended them to the congregation to be called and elected
by the congregation. The city council had the right to approve the
election. Until his death in 1564, Calvin was the president of the
The function of the pastors was to preach, teach, administer the
sacraments and enforce Church discipline. The elders, all twelve
of whom were also members of the city government, joined enforcement
of Church discipline, the ministers.
In the exercise of Church discipline, Paulk observes:
Pastors and elders were charged to supervise the religious and
moral life of the people of their districts (the city was divided
into twelve districts). If criminals were discovered in connection
with the administration of church discipline, the persons involved
were handed over to the secular government for trial and punishment.
The Consistory [composed of ministers and appointed members by the
magistrate but not responsible to the city council for their decisions]
was entitled to hear all marriage cases but it could not make legal
decisions concerning them. This was the duty of a civil marriage
court to which one of the ministers was attached as a consultant.
Despite the fact the Consistory was a partnership between the church
and the secular government, Calvin saw to it that it operated as
the disciplinary body of the church (this did also entail the civil
ban) without sanction and approval of civil government was challenged,
but Calvin succeeded in maintaining the freedom of ecclesiastical
function of the Consistory. Gradually, it imposed, under his guidance,
a strict and very minute discipline upon the people.
Regrettably, time and space do not permit a full or complete description
of Church order in the Anglican Church or Church of England. But
Edward Rochie Hardy, Jr., notes in his essay on "Priestly Ministries
in the Modern Church" that the robed Bishop takes his seat
near the Holy Table or Altar. Near the Holy Table and in fully view
of the gathered, using the impressive rhetorical phrases in vogue
in Tudor England, the Bishop speaks "of what dignity, and of
how great importance this Office us, whereunto you are called."
Priests are called to be Messengers, Watchmen, and Stewards of the Lord; to teach,
and to premonish, to feed and provide for the Lord's family; to
seek for Christ's sheep that are dispersed abroad, and for his children
who are in the midst of this naughty world, that they might be saved
through Christ forever.
The treasure of Christ is committed to their charge and keeping
for they [the Church and congregation] are the sheep of Christ,
which he bought with his death, and for whom he shed his blood.
The Church and Congregation whom you must serve is his Spouse, and
his Body. And if it shall happen that the same Church, or any Member
thereof, do take any hurt or hindrance by reason of your negligence,
you know the greatness of the fault, and also the horrible punishment
that will ensure.
Wherefore . . . see that you never cease your labour, your care
and diligence, until ye have done all that lieth in you, according
to your bounden duty, to bring all such as are and shall be committed
to your charge, unto that agreement in the faith and knowledge of
God, and to that ripeness and perfectness of age in Christ, that
there be no place left among you, either for error in religion,
or for viciousness in life.
To aspire to such a high ideal of ministry in the Church of England,
one must employ and deploy earnest prayer and daily meditation on
the Holy Scriptures. Candidates are then reminded
how ye ought to forsake and set aside, as much as ye may, all worldly
cares and studies . . . to give yourselves wholly to this Office,
whereunto it hath pleased God to call you . . . and draw all your
cares and studies this way that so, by prayer for the assistance
of the Holy Ghost, and by daily reading and weighing the Scriptures,
ye may wax riper and stronger in your Ministry; and that ye may
so endeavour yourselves . . . to sanctify the lives of your and
yours, and to fashion them after the Rule and Doctrine of Christ,
that ye may be wholesome and godly examples and patterns for the
people to follow.
Then after solemn prayer, the Carolingian hymn Veni Creator Spiritus,
the Bishop and assisting priests lay hands on the ordinands, with
words based on the commission given to the apostles in John 20:22-23:
Receive the Holy Ghost (for the Office and Work of a Priest in
the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the Imposition of
our hands). Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and
whose sins though dost retain, they are retained. And be thou a
faithful Dispenser of the Word of God, and of his Holy Sacraments;
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
III. Melanchthon on Worship - "To move the Heart"
And Rhetorical Theology.
The Reformation of the 16th century not only recreated the fabric
of ministry but the Reformation reformed worship and how worship
was conducted and understood.
No less a "reformer" of worship that Philip Melanchthon
joined Word and Sacrament in a marvelous Renaissance metaphor --
"To move the heart" -- as he wrote:
Through the Word and the rite God simultaneously moves the heart
to believe and take hold of faith . . . As the Word enters the ears
to strike the heart [un feriat corda], so the rite itself enters
through the eyes to move the heart [ut moveat corda].
Melanchthon's "forgotten truth" is valuable enough to
recover from the dustbin of history, because Master Philip made
a contribution to understanding Christian worship that not only
served his time well, but is desperately needed and salutary in
the early years of the 21st century.
Aune's succinct summation of Melanchthon's vision of what worship
ought to be for us straightforward: "God is apprehended by
the lips, the ears, the limbs in order to move the heart."
What is seen, said and done is memorable, and in terms of ritual
or rite, then our worship becomes and is simultaneously the work
of God in the human heart, and worship is also a human event. How
is this so?
The expression "'to move the heart'" is drawn from an
intellectual framework and vocabulary from one of earliest Lutheran
Reformation intellectual resources -- the theologia rhetorica or
"rhetorical theology" of Renaissance humanism.
The use of rhetorical theology in the hands of a skilled practitioner
as Melanchthon should reassure us that we are in capable and loving
hands of a master scholar and a pious, committed and dedicated Christian
scholar. Unlike 19th century atheistic humanism or the modern secular
humanism that speaks of "life organized without reference to
God," Christian humanism of the 16th century variety had no
comprehensive philosophy to teach, defend or to offer. What the
Christian humanism offered to the Reformers, including Melanchthon,
was a set of tools, methods of discourse, the arts of language,
and the process of human communication.
The process of human communication involves dialectic and rhetoric.
Dialectic "has to do with the discovery of knowledge that is
lively, immediate, practical." And rhetoric "has to do
with the organization and presentation of knowledge in a fashion
that would be truly useful and directly relevant for human life."
Mere rhetoric is not what was needed. It is practice that defines
a way of life. Dialectic and rhetoric together provide a powerful
instrument for communication.
Dialectic and rhetoric provide a bridge between the word and the world, connecting problems of
style to the role of emotion and imagination in the mind's journey
to God, to the relation between thought and feeling, to the Christian
conception of selfhood.
Melanchthon and others of like mind sought to develop the skills
to think clearly and to write and speak well, the marriage of dialectic
The collective interest in dialectic and rhetoric aroused Luther.
Dialectic and rhetoric involved the acquisition of skills in the arts of written and
spoken language to convince, to elicit an affective or ethical response
-- in short, rhetoric. To be so skilled was a practical rather than
a solely speculative concern, for the goal was to change not only
minds but also lives as a concept of the "duties of the orator
[officia oratoris] makes abundantly clear. It involved a combination
of teaching - delighting - moving in a complex knot that cannot
be undone or cut.
A combination of teaching - delighting - moving requires a commitment
to the "pursuit of excellence" on the part of the worship
leader and the congregational participants. But this potent and
potentially rich and combustible combination must engage some anthropological
assumptions, and Melanchthon was a master of that as discussion
of ritual and worship and preaching come into view a bit later.
But for now, consideration of the contribution of the humanists
who were also Protestant Christians draws our attention. Most prominent
of these was Melanchthon, who was trained to get back to the Greek
and Latin sources (ad fontes).
In order to get back to the sources, however, tidy knowledge had
to be discarded. Among the discards was the reigning Scholastic
notion that mankind lives in compartments. On the other hand, Melanchthon
came to see human beings as whole persons, and whole persons include
a person's emotions.
Perhaps the recovery of the idea of the whole person strikes modern
ears as rather commonplace, even pedestrian, but it should not given
the fact that more often than not, we "feel" everything,
but do not appear to "think" too much about the same thing
And I am not too sure we are whole persons if "feeling"
is paramount and "thinking" is subsumed or discarded.
Melanchthon would not know what to make of our cavalier attitude
toward thinking and feeling.
But in the 16th century, the idea of the whole person, interpreted
by Melanchthon as the "heart," proved astounding and worked
a revolution in rhetorical theory and practice, in poetics, music,
painting and theology! And, of course, worship as well.
In theology and worship and preaching, where our interests lie,
Melanchthon recognized that knowledge and passion move through the
heart of man and should not be divorced from each other. If knowledge
and passion were split asunder, he immediately recognized the consequences
of the split, and they were enormous.
Knowledge without passion produced a barren Scholasticism, the flaw
in Roman Catholic teaching and, in turn, it produced a defective
worship for the people. The laity, as a congregation, were not essential
or needed to conduct a Mass. In the RCC scheme, the laity were reduced
to passive pawns on an ecclesiastical chessboard.
On the other hand, if passion did not have knowledge, it tended
to produce fanaticism, a charge for which the Anabaptists were liable
Between the RCC position and the fanatic Anabaptists, Melanchthon
sought to avoid the extremes of either movement because that could
sidetrack the Lutheran Reformation. Melanchthon walked a fine line
between the perceived "an anti-intellectual spiritualism [Anabaptists]"
and "a solely philosophical, speculative, and abstract understanding
of the Christian faith [Scholasticism]." The use of theologia
rhetorica of Renaissance humanism was a tool that enabled Master
Philip to sort the theological deck and deal the Lutheran Reformation
a winning hand.
The theologia rhetorica of Renaissance humanism described an understanding
of elements of Christian theology that were embedded in the feelings
and emotions and experiences of living human beings. The recognition
of this fact alone reorganized the understanding of human consciousness
when human beings began to think differently about themselves, about
God, and about the world.
What did the theologia rhetorica achieve in Melanchthon's life work?
How did it influence his theological method? Biblical interpretation?
Design of theological documents, understanding of worship, sermons,
lectures, letters and so forth?
Finally, his theology was at once powerful, simple, direct, affective
and practical. What practical consequences for the people -- the
healing, comfort, trust -- did he promise and fulfill?
Consider this impressive summary:
· A reform theology, more rhetorical than systematic.
· A Christocentric theology.
· A critical theology (over against "Tradition").
· A scriptural theology focused on revelation.
· A practical theology (proclamation concerned with Christian
· An affective theology that occurs in the dynamic of the
spirit of Christ.
· An existential theology that is both doctrinal and psychological.
When Melanchthon came to Wittenberg in 1518, as a "teenage"
professor of humanistic studies, he called for university reform
along the lines of the theologia rhetorica of Renaissance humanism.
At first, Luther was skeptical of the young man's learning, but
almost at once while the lecture was in progress, Luther began to
favor to the younger man, who, in time, proved a trusted colleague,
a confidant, a compatriot and a friend for life.
What Melanchthon proposed in his inaugural lecture was underway
among some Wittenberg faculty and the theologians before Melanchthon
began his teaching duties in Wittenberg. He brought affirmation
and extended the boundaries of learning which justifiably made Duke
Frederick the Wise's little Wittenberg University (1502) a magnet
and center of learning in Northern Europe.
In his inaugural lecture, he proposed the recovery and rediscovery
of "pure sources [ad fontes] of Christian doctrine."
The "pure sources" or original sources include the Greek
and Latin texts of the Church Fathers, the Bible in its original
languages, study of mathematics and rhetoric. Melanchthon also taught
courses on astronomy and, much to our surprise, imbibed in astrology.
The range of knowledge and the scope of his studies indeed threw
wide the doors of the world of learning, a world of learning that
was opened by this method. The curriculum and faculty of this small
school brought an endless line of students from across Northern
Europe. They flocked to the small town of Wittenberg to sit at the
feet of learned scholars, who spoke with "authority,"
not as the scribes and Pharisees of Roman Catholic learning spoke.
IV. Luther on Worship
Luther hesitated to publish a German Mass until 1526. Meanwhile certain impatient pastors ventured to produce their own
vernacular service; and among these who anticipated Luther in this
respect was Diobald Schwarz, an assistant to Matthew Zell, the first
reformer in Strassburg. On February 16, 1524, in a chapel in the
cathedral, Schwarz read his own Teutsche Messe, a conservative adaptation
of the Roman rite, which marked the beginning of the Strassburg
"The reform of worship that Luther set in motion and that
in Wittenberg in 1525 is principally an event in the history of
liturgy at the beginning of the Reformation in the sixteenth century,"
Helmar Junghans notes.
The Reformation in Wittenberg and in Saxony was conservative in
pace and movement toward reform. "The Word and the Sacrament"
were placed on equal footing and balanced the preaching of the Word
and the celebration of the Sacrament. Both Word and Sacrament constitutes
the whole of the Church's ministry, and Word and Sacrament (Lord's
Supper and Baptism) are the standard by which Lutherans undergo
self-criticism when evaluating the role of worship in the life of
To establish and affirm the mutual relationship and close connection
shared by the Word and the Sacraments and the role both play in
the life of grace extended in the life of the Church and through
the fellowship of the Church, three essential points need to be
First, the relationship between the sacred ministry of the Church
and the divine Word follows Christ's example and commission to the
apostles. Therefore, there is a close relationship between the sacred
ministry's preaching and the forms of worship that relationship
The sermon becomes so essential an element in the service that
the principle is almost universally
accepted by Lutherans that no service of any kind
can be held without a sermon. It is by means of preaching that the
Church of God exercises throughout the ages her prophetic office,
her apostolic authority, and to quote Luther: 'It is through the
sermon that Christ cometh to you and you will be drawn to him; for
the preaching of the divine Word is not our word but God's.' 'Where
the preaching of the Word is not practiced, the Christian faith
is exterminated by the devil' and that means the ultimate victory
of the devil becomes inevitable. Luther never tires of singing the
praises of God's Word, which, he says, 'is the victory against the
devil, the world, sin and death.' 'Without the same there is no
life or condition pleasing to God.'
Second, in Lutheran worship, the point of gravity in worship lies
with the action of God, not the work of man or mankind in offering
worship. Illustrative of this principle, Luther writes, "There
three kinds of divine service or mass." He continues,
The first is the one in Latin which we have published under the
title Formula Missae. It is not my intention to abrogate or to change
this service. It shall not be affected in the form which we have
followed so far; but we shall continue to use it when and where
we are pleased and prompted to do so. For in no wise would I want
to discontinue the service in the Latin language, because the young
are my chief concern. And if we could bring it to pass, and Greek
and Hebrew were as familiar to us as Latin and had as many fine
melodies and songs, we would hold mass, sing, and read on successive
Sundays in all four languages, German, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.
I do not at all agree with those who cling to one language and despise
all others. I would rather train such youth and folk who could also
be of service to Christ in foreign lands and be able to converse
with the natives there, lest we become like the Waldenses in Bohemia,
who have so ensconced their faith in their own language that they
cannot speak plainly and clearly to anyone, unless he first learns
their language. The Holy Spirit did not act like that in the beginning.
He did not wait until the world came to Jerusalem and studied Hebrew,
but gave manifold tongues for the office of ministry, so that the
apostles could preach wherever they might. I prefer to follow this
example. It is also reasonable that the young should be trained
in many languages; for who know how God may use them in times to
come? For this purpose our schools were founded.
Second, the service is the German Mass and Order of Service. It
is arranged for "unlearned lay folk." They are a concern
of Luther's. These two orders, in Latin and in German, must be used
in the Churches, for all people, believers and those who are not
yet Christian. "Most of them," Luther observes with a
sense of humor, "stand around and ape, hoping to see something
new, just as if we were holding a service among the Turks or the
heathen in a public square or out in a field."
Third, there is an evangelical order, which should not be held in
"a public place for all sorts of people."
But those who want to be Christians in earnest and who profess
the gospel with hand and mouth should sign their names and meet
alone in a house somewhere to pray, to read, to baptism, to receive
the sacrament [of the Lord's Supper], and to do Christian works.
According to this order, those who do not lead Christian lives could
be known, reproved, corrected, cast out, or excommunicated, according
to the rule of Christ, Matthew 18 [:15-17]. He one could also solicit
benevolent gifts to be willingly given and distributed to the poor,
according to St. Paul's example, II Corinthians 9. Here one would
need a good short catechism on the [Apostles'] Creed, the Ten Commandments,
and the Our Father [the Lord's Prayer].
But there appears to be a fourth point that characterizes worship
in the Lutheran tradition, though not exclusively but significantly,
because Luther was himself a musician. Firmly lodged on the people's
wide of worship is the "good tidings" of congregational
singing. In the preface of his hymnbook of 1545, a year before he
died, Luther explains the purpose of congregational singing of hymns
and beautiful words.
God has gladdened our hearts and souls through His beloved Son,
whom He has given for us to be our redemption from sin, death and
the devil. Whosoever steadfastly believes therein cannot but sing
and speak of the same with joy and delight. 'This Christ's will
to hear the multitude, not thee or me, nor the isolated Pharisee.
Wherefore if though sings with a multitude, thou sings well; but
if thou sings alone, thou shall not escape judgment.
Luther's idea of Church music "was essentially limited to
vocal polyphony, Gregorian chant, and Latin and vernacular hymnody."
The organ, which comes to be a powerful voice for all sorts of music
in the Church, did not play a significant role in early Lutheran
worship. "The organ provided intonations and alternate verses
for such portions of the liturgy as the Introit, Gloria in Excelsis,
sequences hymns, responsories, and for such canticles as the Magnificant
[Luke 2:29-35] and the Te Deum.
Instructions for singing the Te Deum prescribe that two groups ("choirs")
are to sing the hymn. The term choirs does not mean two actual choirs
were involved in singing, but in the Wittenberg Church order of
After the hymn let the choir intone the Te Deum laudamus, in Dr.
Martin Luther's German translation [from the Latin text], and let
one of the choristers in the schoolboy's pew [Schuelerstuhl] answer
the congregation at half-verses. For the start he may also take
a few boys into the pew to help him, until the congregation gets
accustomed to singing along in this Te Deum. In order way, the first
half-verse was to be sung by the choir, and the second by the congregation
(enforced by a few choir members).
The Te Deum is a canticle. It consists of five stanzas, each stanza
with its own melodic pattern. The first stanza, having five verses
and a concluding verse for both choirs, is the angelic song of praise.
The second stanza, with six verses, adds praise of the Trinity by
the apostles, prophets, martyrs, and all Christians.
The third stanza, with five verses, is a confession of faith in
The fourth stanza, with four verses, contains a prayer for salvation.
The fifth stanza, again with five verses, returns to the melody
of the first and contains petitions for Christian life.
It is observed in the first, third and fifth stanzas have the same
number of verses. The first and last stanzas have an additional
line to be sung by both choirs together. The fourth stanza begins
and the fifth ends with a verse of half notes. The third stanza
forms, as it were, the heart of the whole hymn, with its confession
of faith in Christ preceded by praise and followed by prayer.
By now, even with this limited introduction to the music of Luther,
a reader should be aware that the Great Reformer not only loved
music but also was an able amateur musician.
Paul Westermeyer's Te Deum: The Church and Music reminds us that
the medieval idea of what constituted the liberal arts curriculum
Music, however, as Westermeyer notes, and especially medieval music
did not sound like contemporary music with our almost obsessive
reliance on lilting melodies, upbeat tempo, and whatever mass of
instruments that make the place rock.
Rather medieval music owes its "strangeness" to earlier
forms of music, and philosophical and theological works that speak
of music as one of the seven liberal arts, a Point Westermeyer drives
home when discussing Te Deum also influenced it.
A Greek Church Father St. John Chrysostom commented that "the
divine chant of number" is heavenly. The mention of "number"
Chrysostom had in mind refers to number symbolism.
The reference to number symbolism apparently leads to the formation
of the medieval speculative musical system that includes "cosmic
harmony, the doctrine of ethos, and music as science." Nevertheless,
the formation of the medieval speculative music system owes some
inspiration to Boethius and his writing on the subject.
Earlier, Boethius (c. 480-c. 524), a erudite Roman writer and philosopher,
wrote an influential book -- called De Musica like Augustine's --
that provides an entry into the medieval mindset, which obviously
influenced and shaped Luther's earliest musical memories and his
own work as a composer and player of music.
Boethius identified three kinds or types of music:
Musica mundana, the music of the spheres;
Musica humana, the music of the body and soul; and musica instrumentalis,
the actual sounds we hear. The central reality was the first category,
the music of the spheres.
John echoes Boethius's identification of the three kinds of music.
Milton's poem in the 17th century "ring out, ye crystal spheres"
echoes Boethius' identification of the three kinds of music.
Furthermore, Boethius's work also reminds us that as earlier in
this presentation on Melanchthon's use of the tools of Renaissance
humanism opened the treasures of the Bible and the Church Fathers
for reforming the Church, so knowledge and emotion -- "To move
the heart" in Melanchthon's sense suggests that music was tied to knowledge and intellect,
not to emotions, for many people in the medieval period. Such a perspective may be harder for us
to understand than the primacy of universal 'sound' not heard by
human ears. We tend to reverse the medieval view. We are apt to
related music only to the emotions and erase the intellect, whereas
the medieval view . . . was likely to relate music only to the intellect
and erase the emotions.
Westermeyer demonstrates Luther's deep appreciation, enjoyment and
performance of good music, especially Church music, and lifelong
pursuit of collaborators -- composers especially -- who could assist
him in the development of music worthy of the Reformation use. Drawing
from a variety of primary sources, Westermeyer identifies six important
issues that drew Luther's attention when it comes to music.
1. Luther sought the advice and counsel of able musicians. Johann
Walter, it is reported, assisted Luther in the preparation of his
Deutsche Messe. Luther wanted Conrad Ruff and Walter himself to
come to Wittenberg to discuss the nature of the eight Gregorian
psalm tones with him. Furthermore, wanting to make sure the musical setting of the German was right
and refusing to hurry the process, he prepared the music for the
epistles, gospels, and words of institution, asked Walter about
his work, and kept Walter in Wittenberg for three weeks discussing
how the epistles and gospels might be set in German.
The first "hymnal" prepared under Luther's guidance
was edited by Walter and Georg Rhau, the cantor of Leipzig. Rhau
came to Wittenberg as a music publisher.
2. Keeping in mind his obligation to civil authority, Luther attempted
to enlist their support on behalf of musicians and music. When John
the Steadfast dismantled the Kantorei of the Castle Church in Wittenberg,
Luther objected and argued that music was more worth of support
than many other endeavors.
3. Luther, a discriminating judge of music, understood polyphony.
4. Luther was an able and gifted amateur musician. In Eisenach,
as a boy, he was a Kurende singer, enjoyed singing and played the
lute. A survey of a just a few of Luther's hymns makes clear, he
had a sense of what verse and composition could accomplish if the
composer understood the relationship between text and music. His
hymns have been proven to have exceptional quality about them.
5. Ever the student and teacher, Luther regarded music as essential
to a complete education for children. He stressed that ministers
and teachers should be musically literate, as should the schoolmaster.
A schoolmaster, Luther said, "must be able to sing; otherwise
I do not look at him."
6. Like King Saul in the Old Testament, Luther found music often
invigorated him. Once when he fainted, friends found him and revived
him by playing music.
In summarizing the role music played in the life and work of Luther,
one can say that Luther had a sense of the theology of music. This
fact is interesting when one considers that Luther was not a systematic
Unlike John Calvin's Institutes or Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics,
Luther, it may be said fairly, few off in many directions. To make
him otherwise is unfair to Luther, but it puts limitations on his
thought that curtails his freshness and bold brashness.
But his freshness and brashness became a strength when it came to
music, for Luther must have had an incredible imagination, which
made him, most likely, an unforgettable preacher.
In a future lecture, the preaching of the Evangelical Reformers
will be presented.